MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture July 24, 2013

Taufel calls for pragmatic approach to technology


Simon Taufel, the former ICC Elite Panel umpire, has warned that there is a "double edge" to using technology in decision making but officials should be more "pragmatic" in utilising all available tools.

Taufel, who retired from umpiring after the World T20 in October 2012, delivered the 13th MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture at Lord's and warned that the highly intrusive nature of technology can put "pressure" on the umpire if not utilised cautiously. Yet, at the same time, Taufel said the match officials, who he called the "third team", needed to be more prudent about the use of technology.

In addition to being the first umpire to deliver this prestigious lecture, Taufel was the third Australian. The inaugural lecture in 2001 was delivered by Richie Benaud before Adam Gilchrist spoke in 2009. Taufel also is the third non-player to deliver the speech with the previous two being Desmond Tutu in 2009 and the late journalist Christopher Martin-Jenkins in 2006.

Taufel, who has been rated one of the best umpires of all time, now serves as the ICC umpire training and performance manager. Being the first umpire to deliver the Cowdrey lecture might have carried a unique honour but Taufel was equally aware of the timing: in the middle of an Ashes series during which the decision-making of the umpires and the use of the DRS has garnered as much attention as the Australians' batting.

But like a true fencer, Taufel had come equipped with all protective gear even though he called himself a "target". He said the public scrutiny faced by umpires where their every movement and facial expression is judged has its dangers.

"In today's cricket, the decision of the umpire is scrutinised by all these cameras," Taufel said. "Slow motion, ultra motion, Hot Spot front on, Hot Spot leg side, Hot Spot off side, ball tracking and prediction, Snicko, stump audio, the mat and then by up to three commentary experts. After all that public scrutiny and technology, there is often divided opinion about what the correct decision was."

Although Taufel was not against the broadcasters spending money on high-end technology, he was wary of the fast-gathering army of armchair critics, which is quick to adjudge the match official. "The investment by television companies in extra cameras, high-speed frame rates, computer software programs and military infra-red technology, plus high definition has certainly given the spectators a lot more information," he said. "There is no doubt we now have a lot more 'armchair' experts.

"Today, everyone umpires the game by watching television. The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it - it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst."

"No matter what system of technology we implement in our game, it will not be perfect or 100%. There are compromises with every system adopted."
Simon Taufel

According to Taufel, the role of the umpire today is much more than just making decisions. "We have to police (and I personally dislike this term and approach) other vital areas of the modern game," he said. "Player behaviour, ball tampering, over rates, logos and clothing, impact of ground, weather and light, having to reduce playing times." In that respect the introduction of technology had its benefits and even allowed the player and the viewer to understand the challenge faced by match officials during a live match.

"One benefit of the current technology system has been the reduction in dissent charges and improvement in behaviour accordingly on the field. In the majority of cases in the modern game, if an umpire has made an error, there is an ability to correct it. In an Ashes Test, if there is an error off the first ball of the game, it can be corrected at the time rather than have it on the umpire's conscience for the rest of the day and have the players constantly remind him of it. If I make an error, it stays with me all day, all game and I have to keep focused and performing in the middle. There is no dressing room to immediately take refuge while another umpire comes out to the middle, no time off the field to regather thoughts and regroup."

Regardless of the many backers technology has, it has many times, as during this Ashes, proved to be inconclusive. That has stoked the scepticism of the biggest detractor of the DRS, the BCCI, which has refused to adopt a mandatory DRS in a bilateral series, even threatening to not participate if such a decision was imposed.

But Taufel said everyone involved needs take a call that would only serve cricket well and increase respect among its fans. "I believe the highest form of the game needs to have the highest standards of respect, spirit of cricket, behaviour and integrity - those at the highest level are setting the tone and standards for others to follow, be they players, umpires or administrators. We owe the future of our game that much.

"The technology genie has been let out of the bottle and it's not going to go back in. I would simply advocate that we look at ways to be as pragmatic as possible so we can get more correct decisions and deliver more justice. I do have an important message on this topic though as it is often asked, 'what is your view on the DRS?' I'm not sure that this is the right question.

"Perhaps we should be asking 'are we using technology in the best way to serve the players, supporters, umpires and values of our game?' No matter what system of technology we implement in our game, it will not be perfect or 100%. The all-human solution is not 100%, neither is the DRS and neither will be an 'all appeals' review system. There are trade-offs and compromises with every system adopted. It all depends how the majority believe our game should be played underpinned with the values we want to promote and preserve."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ashley on July 27, 2013, 7:12 GMT

    Stay with on-field decision unless there is something obviously wrong in the review. for 50/50 calls the 3rd umpire should stay out of it and leave it to the middle ie. Agar's last dismissal and Bells low catch; theses are dumbfounding overturned decisions that the 3rd umpire has no clear call on and should stay out of. Just revert to the on-fields call. Keep the game flowing and maintain some respect for the guys in the middle.

  • Dummy4 on July 26, 2013, 13:41 GMT

    There are basically 3 problems in the current system:

    1. Captains use DRS for 50-50 decisions 2. Captains run out of reviews and up unable to use DRS for howlers 3. Third umpire takes Wrong decisions on howlers.

    Solution for (1) and (2) are simple: Give the control to the Third umpire(s) on choice of which decisions to review and which decisions to over-rule and which decisions to stop the play for.

    Solution for (3) is to have a team of three independent Third umpires secluded in a separate room each, having 3 buttons, "Out", "Not out", "Not sure" and let the Computer over-turn the decisions if it gets Majority to overturn the ruling on the field.

  • Dummy4 on July 26, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    I have often commented in UDRS related debates.The only problem is ICC takes an awful lot of time in realising the obvious.The mistakes/problems created by lack of DRS in various series,by incorrect use of DRS /batsmen ,debates about batsmen not walking on his own when reviews are finished etc etc.The only solution is to take reviews out of players' hands.The review must be done by umpire only and most importantly ,whenever there is a doubt look at the TV evidence which is so easily available and already seen by all the viewers.Deliberately creating laws like only 2 incorrect reviews (1 in case of ODIs)which discriminate against lower order batsmen.create a big furore (if batsmen dont walk in Broad's case,why cant the 3rd umpire call the two in the middle and scream out the obvious.......why should we create laws with inherent flaws in it....why have a big resource ,spend lot of money and then close your eyes in situations which demand their use.

  • Steve on July 25, 2013, 18:26 GMT

    DRS and Hotspot are here to stay. They should assist in making the correct decision within bounds as is being done today. Like with any new technology/process, it takes time to mature and be accepted by all concerned; players and fans. There will come a time it will be used for every international match once these kinks are removed.

  • SDW on July 25, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    @clarke501 The players should not have the right to review. Even if they need to either the captain or some other designated person should do it. Many players seem to miss the point of DRS, maybe its because the system is new. Umpires taking a few minutes to check tough decisions is better than the current system wasting 5-10 mins per review. I still think the on-field umpires must be given the tools to make the correct decision. Deferring the decision off-field, even if it is the third umpire means lack of confidence in the umpires.

  • Cricinfouser on July 25, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    @sdwlrd - Fair point but it's the 'few minutes' which worries me. Multiply that by the number of frivolous reviews which the umpire is too scared to reject outright and forget bowling 90 overs in a day.

    @Alexk400 - Test match tickets are expensive enough already without censoring what spectators are trusted to see. Why should they get less information than the TV viewer.

  • Sarfin on July 25, 2013, 14:16 GMT

    It's time to independently train 3rd umpires. As technology is becoming an important issue, tv umpires should be in a different category and have specialized training. International umpires are highly trained. They regularly make astonishingly correct decisions within a split of a second. When that same group of people cannot avoid controversy even with the help of technology, then clearly they lack something. Just pick 2 umpires from each test playing nations and arrange a workshop. It'll not take huge amount of time as they are already accustomed to the fundamental laws of cricket.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    Best way to use DRS - For LBWs, simply review if the ball was pitched in line or not. Also check if there was an inside edge. Let the on field umpire decide ball's trajectory and height. Umpires have the best view and know how the pitch is behaving. Technology determining which way ball will go is ridiculous, no matter how sophisticated it is. Let the third umpire intervene if there was a howler. No need for batsman to review the decision.

    For close catches or faint nicks, again, let the third umpire review without fielding team or batsman requesting a review.

    Of course, all this should be done only if there was an appeal and umpire either decided to declare a batsman out or not out.

    After a decision has been made on the ground, give the third umpire fixed time within which a decision is required from him. If the replays are inconclusive or arriving at conclusion is taking longer than expected, stay with on-field umpire's decision.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2013, 13:31 GMT

    If the reviews only confirm the field umpires' decision, the team which made the appeal should be penalised by a certain number of runs. How many runs need to be knocked off is something the technical committee of ICC can decide.

    Once we put this penalty in force, we could allow any number of appeals. The flimsy appeals, or the gamble of an appeal, will stop. If a particular player has made an appeal and lose runs will also get ostrasized by his teammates. This system should work.